Scalene Movie Review
Written by Karin Crighton
DVD released by Breaking Glass Pictures
Directed by Zack Parker
Written by Brandon Owen and Zack Parker
2011, 97 minutes, Not Rated
DVD released on July 31st, 2012
Margo Martindale as Janice
Hanna Hall as Paige
Adam Scarimbolo as Jakob
“Scalene” refers to a triangle with no sides consistent in length. Inconsistency is also the fault of the otherwise good movie with the same name.
This simple story of a complicated mother-son family has a strong basis. Jakob has a seizure in middle school, rendering him unable to talk. We meet him 14 years later as a 26-year-old struggling with who he is as a grown man and his mother struggling to re-establish herself as an individual with a new romantic interest. The introduction of a beautiful young caregiver to look after Jakob while Janice goes on a much-anticipated first date starts this tightly-wound family unit unraveling into disaster.
The film loses its traction when it switches perspectives from Janice to Jakob to Paige as the movie unfolds backwards, from the end to the beginning. This setup, which is very clever and the perfect way to tell this particular story, is intended to conceal and then reveal the truth of what is happening under the surface. The failure lies when the shifting perspectives are so disparate they sound to be from different scripts.
In the opening sequences we see Janice’s challenges as a single mother of a disabled adult son; the predictable dead-end job in a grocery store, the run-down home in a less desirable neighborhood, the outdated car. Margo Martindale is superb as a Janice; woman who sees herself as a proud martyr. Caring for her disabled son has swallowed up her life and she harbors both great love and great resentment for Jakob.
We move briefly to Jakob’s perspective so the audience can understand what caused the brain damage that led to his current condition and both the reciprocal guilt and anger he feels towards his mother. Adam Scarimbolo’s innocent face and fearful devotion to Janice is dead on target, even without words.
Paige, the caregiver, is introduced last as a twist on what we think we know about Janice and Jakob’s strained relationship. Her growing affection for Jakob blossoms smoothly and quite naturally leads towards her desire to separate Jakob from the protective custody of his mother. Their interactions lead up to a masterfully choreographed and disturbing scene where she comes up with a plan to “save” Jakob.
With a slightly stronger script this movie would have been phenomenal. A few sequences with lawyers, doctors and police officers have some clunky dialogue and the scenes involving Paige’s interrogation could have used a more delicate hand. But the main fault is the vastly different stories Janice and Paige tell.
Admittedly, these hugely contrasting stories are necessary as they are used to reach the film’s pinnacle in the confrontation between Janice and Paige. They’re specifically designed to obfuscate the truth until we finally learn what actually happened during the violent altercation between Paige and Jakob. My issue with the road Scalene takes is that it doesn’t allow both women to be telling the truth, at least their own truth, simultaneously. Janice could be loving and abusive at the same time. Paige could be affectionate and meddling at the same time. They are both equally good and bad for Jakob.
Unfortunately, the film shows a clear bias by revealing what really did happen instead of letting us wonder; it decides who is Right and one is Wrong. The sympathy Janice earned at the opening is obliterated, even with Martindale’s skilled handling of her breakdown. Despite Paige’s despicable actions, we are forced to choose her as our heroine, or at least the lesser of two evils.
There are many saving graces that make Scalene very enjoyable. The scene transitions as we jump back in time are smooth and artistic. The moments we are allowed inside Jakob’s world are very compelling. The sequence where we meet Janice’s new beau Charles and the director contrasts his social obliviousness with Jakob’s social paralysis is brilliant. These tiny moments are so enjoyable, the viewer can overlook the confusing contradictions presented in the shifting perspective.
Scalene may have been kept from true glory by its own shortcomings, but this is a solid movie that deserves to be seen.
Video, Audio and Special Features:
Video, audio and special features will not be graded as this was a screener.